In a sport that’s been taken over by spread offenses and flashy passing attacks, Saturday’s Citrus Bowl matchup between No. 15 Iowa and No. 22 Kentucky will serve as a reminder of days gone by.
The Hawkeyes (10-3) and Wildcats (9-3) are run-first teams that play strong defense and often make the magic happen when opponents make mistakes.
While strange things often happen in bowl games when teams haven’t played for weeks, logic dictates this is probably going to be a 17-14 or 20-17 kind of game.
Take, for instance, the comments of Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White about the Iowa offense.
“Something we don’t see very much is that two-back run game, the fact they play with a fullback,” he said.
“Some of our guys, especially younger guys that came out of high school and have only seen spread offenses, they don’t even know what a fullback is.
“So you’ve got to coach them up on that. So there’s a challenge in that aspect and it’s nice that we’ve had a couple of weeks to prepare.”
Iowa has exceeded most expectations this fall, aside from midseason losses to upset expert Purdue and Wisconsin. But the Hawkeyes rallied to win their last four games and reach the Big Ten Conference championship game, where they were hammered 42-3 by No. 2 Michigan.
Iowa hasn’t done it because of its offense. Aside from Tyler Goodson and his 1,151 rushing yards, there aren’t stars on that side of the ball. And Goodson is skipping the bowl game because he’s declared for next spring’s NFL Draft.
There’s also a question about who will start at quarterback. Spencer Petras has been hampered by a shoulder injury and ineffectiveness over the season’s second half, while backup Alex Padilla has completed just 45 of his 97 passes.
Veteran Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said that who gets the call might not be decided until later in the week.
“If it keeps our opponent on their toes a little bit, that’s OK,” he said.
Iowa’s identity is its defense. Even with the conference title game factored into the equation, the Hawkeyes allowed just 19.2 points per game.
Opponents have rushed for just 113.8 yards per game and the Hawkeyes have picked off 24 passes, with Riley Moss recording a pair of pick-sixes.
But they’ll face one of the most balanced offenses they’ve seen all season in the Wildcats. They averaged 206.1 yards per game on the ground and another 225 in the air. Will Levis threw for 2,593 yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, completing 66.5 percent of his passes.
Wan’Dale Robinson has been Levis’ favorite target, catching 94 passes for 1,164 yards and seven scores.
On the ground, Chris Rodriguez chewed up 1,272 yards and scored eight touchdowns for the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Kentucky’s third-down conversion percentage of 51.1 percent ranks fifth in FBS.
“Their offensive line reminds me of Michigan,” said Ferentz.
This will be the first time these programs have met.
–Field Level Media
Standout Auburn running back Tank Bigsby won’t play Friday when the Tigers play No. 14 Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl, AL.com reported.
No reason was given for Bigsby’s absence.
Bigsby was named the Southeastern Conference’s co-freshman of the year and ran for 834 yards and five touchdowns this season. He also returned 13 kicks for 306 yards.
A four-star recruit, Bigsby was the fourth-ranked running back and No. 40 overall player in the nation in the Class of 2020, per the 247Sports composite.
There have been rumblings that Bigsby might leave Auburn in the wake of coach Gus Malzahn’s firing. Earlier this week, offensive coordinator Chad Morris said he wasn’t sure Bigsby would play in the game.
“Well, we are hoping. We’ll see on that,” Morris replied. “He has definitely had a great year, a phenomenal year. A young man that has an incredible future ahead of him. When you are able to get the ball in his hands, he makes a lot of things right when they aren’t right.”
Shaun Shivers and D.J. Williams are expected to be the primary running backs without Bigsby.
–Field Level Media